Saturday, April 26, 2014

Marks of the Church: Back on Track

After some mulling over of Articles XXV and XXVII, I have come to the conclusion that I overreacted to my criticism. While I can readily see that there is ample room for confusion, I don't think that a Reformed understanding of these Articles are abandoned. There is a key issue to navigate, but I think that I am consistent with the doctrine. The key is the last paragraph of Article XXV.
The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be guessed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only, as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; But they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as St. Paul says.
How does one unworthily receive Baptism? I think that this is the issue that I was pushing towards in my most recent example concerning the Baptism of the non-elect. If a non-elect is Baptized, the use of the sacrament does NOT have a wholesome effect, but rather purchases damnation by the person. While we cannot know that this is occurring, we can no more refuse to Baptize than we do fence the table. How can we Baptize infants with any foreknowledge of the person and still hold concern for the person? Indeed, the opponents of paedobaptism gain considerable traction here. Still, we can have comfort in the knowledge that we do not elect. Those other vessels for other purposes have already been passed over regardless of our attempts to use the Sacraments as we were taught. Their damnation was not ours to prevent. 

Returning to the issue of regeneration, it would then seem that there is a dual process occurring. In the elect, the regeneration is simultaneous with Baptism. Article XXVII states that the Sacrament is a "sign of regeneration." This is a different thing that stating that Baptism is efficacious in regeneration as do the Lutherans. We can further extrapolate that simultaneous regeneration at Baptism is expected in the elect, while the simultaneous confirmation of damnation is expected in the non-elect. We cannot hold to a position of the sign of regeneration without also holding to a position of damnation. 

Importantly for my recently one-sided conversation with MDA (Monroe Doctrine Author), this reading of Articles XXV and XXVII is consistent with the later distinction between the sign and the thing signified. Article XXVII is actually quite clear on this point. What is missing from this discussion in the 39 Articles is the fate of the non-elect, an omission that does not seem to concern the church, presumably because it is not in our hands. 

I hope that this has clarified the confusion of my own making. Working through this again has at least put me in a place where I am again comfortable with my own position. It may be, as I have stated several times earlier, that these distinctions are largely lost upon the Anglican Church, but at least I feel that there is consistency between the 39 Articles with the later Westminster Confession on this issue.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Marks of the Church: Retraction and Clarification.

Just so you know, my readers are good. I have been offered a potential correction concerning the Anglican position on Baptism from the 39 Articles, articles 25 and 27. They read:
XXV. Of the Sacraments.
Sacraments ordained of Christ, be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession; but rather they are certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God’s good will towards us, by which he does work invisibly in us, and does not only quicken, but also strengthens and confirms our faith in him. 
   There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. 
   Those five, commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be computed for Sacraments of the gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God. 
   The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be guessed upon, or to be carried about; but that we should duly use them. And in such only, as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation; But they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as St. Paul says.
XXVII. Of Baptism.
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened:  but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby as by an instru­ment, they that receive baptism rightly, are grafted into the Church:  the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the holy ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed; and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.  The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
It is not often that I am called to task for an issue like this, but I must confess that I have been spending so much time in the Reformed world, that I may have missed this point. The Anglican position on Baptism may be exactly the same as the Lutheran position and regeneration is assumed with Baptism, but this will require further study.

As I work through this again, I expect Luther might be the best to read on the subject, but I will be open to suggestions. The issue of the perseverance of the saints is at stake and it will require much prayer and consideration. 

In the mean time, let us assume that I hold to the positions that I have stated whether the Anglican Church does or not, and I will also ferret out the position of the Reformed Episcopal Church within the Anglican Church of North America. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Marks of the Church: Resumption of discussion.

I was somewhat taken aback with the change in tone by the Monroe Doctrine Author (MDA) in his last post that was written in response to me. So, I needed time to walk away and then come back to our discussion. Let me start by responding and clarifying a small amount before we get into the second hypothetical. 

While MDA claims that I made a “pedantic” statement concerning the nature of the sacraments, it clearly is not a point of minutia to me, and thereby we can see a fairly large point of departure. What I have tried to do is to pin down exactly what it is that is the nature of a sacrament in the Presbyterian world, and it still seems elusive to me. Where I am accused in finding “virtue in confusion” is in actual fact my attempts at clearing my own confusion on the issue, a point that I am no further along than I was three months ago.  

What I have attempted to do in my own posts is to point to a decided difference in ecclesiology that is reflected in the practices of the two churches. Since the sacraments are marks of the church in both systems, it stood to reason that these issues needed to be sorted prior to tackling the Presbyterian third mark. I have failed utterly in making my own points clear as instead I have been characterized as a champion of confusion. Therefore, let me make my own points clear once more.

Baptism in the Anglican world is not the same as in the Lutheran world. “The reformed understanding is that there should neither be confusion (as with Rome) nor separation (as in Zwingli) between the sign and the thing signified.” We agree on this point. MDA asserts that I believe in an ex opere relationship of baptism to regeneration, while I have asserted quite differently. His assertion is consistent with the Lutheran tradition, and I have stated that this is not the Anglican tradition, at least as I understand it. I have tried to make a distinction between the sign and seal of covenant in Baptism with regeneration despite simultaneous occurrence of these events in the elect. This is a distinction that MDA does not seem to recognize in my writing, so I will attempt it again. The example that is useful is the covenant member who is not elect. Baptism brings this person into the covenant community, but no regeneration occurs. This is why this person might be seen to fall away from the church. This example makes plain that the Anglican understanding of baptism is different from the Lutheran understanding. The ontological separation of these events, baptism and regeneration, does not require temporal separation, however. This is an important point, and not at all of minutia.

Similarly, my long dwelling on baptism, ecclesiology and liturgy was in fact to demonstrate a lack of need to fence the table in the Anglican world. I view fencing the table a form of discipline, and in this I may be in error from the mindset of the Presbyterian. But I have not been explicitly told so as of this writing, and it may be that this is accurate in certain circumstances, but not in others.

The question that I have left on the table was basically this: what is the nature of the Presbyterian meaning of “pneumatic presence” in the Lord’s Supper as it is clearly different from that meant by the Anglicans, though I have not been able to articulate either side with sufficient clarity to further the discussion. Perhaps MDA will finally take up this point.

Now, moving on the MDA response to the second hypothetical, I would start with this statement. I chose a particular sin knowing it was difficult. MDA answered the particular question very well, but not the spirit of the question. In directing an appropriate next step in our discussion, I would ask MDA to change the habitual sin to any other one he chooses, so long as it requires the formal discipline process within the church. This will best give MDA an opportunity to forward his view of the discipline process as he understands it.

Remembering that we are both brothers in Christ Jesus, I put the ball back into your court, sir.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marks of the Church: Pause and Reference to an aside

It will take some time for me to sort out exactly where I need to go next in my debate with the Monroe Doctrine Author (MDA). His most recent response is here. I need time to digest and investigate where our divergence of understand has occurred and try to get on track with his meaning.

In the meantime, I would whole-heartedly commend to you, my readers, his latest effort, in which he shares a view that I find compelling and revealing. It is very well written and I absolutely concur with his sentiment and underlying theology in this regard.

I will try to get us back to the debate soon.

- Troll -

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Marks of the Church: The Second Hypothetical

As we move into the new year, our debate will finally get to the subject originally promised. The main lesson I’ve learned is that I’m going to stop quoting Presbyterians, as I keep picking the ones who have been defrocked. Rather than any major regrouping, I’d rather start by pointing out the obvious. There are a couple of questions that remain unanswered from the earlier posts.

The phrase that muddies the water is, again, that there should be a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. While this is clearly evident as a Roman failing when we think of transubstantiation at Communion in Roman theology, what is not at all clear is how the Holy Spirit is involved in the Presbyterian Lord’s Supper. The pneumatic presence that is part and parcel of this theology is not explained. Let’s go to the standard, a place where MDA (Monroe Doctrine Author) will have to stand fast.

Chapter XXVII of the Westminster Confession of Faith, interestingly enough the last chapter, states the following. Sacraments are the holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word. Clearly, signs and seals of the covenant of grace means something important here, but I would have MDA sort this out.

Westminster goes on with this, that there is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other. Now, this is exactly the issue. My several reads through this seem more similar to Anglican theology and less similar to Presbyterian theology as I am coming to understand it. Some explanation will be required in this section as well.

The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers. As far as the location of the power being in the Spirit and the word of institution, we have no argument. This is classic Reformed thinking and is mirroring the 39 Articles very closely.  What is still unclear is that there are benefits of sacraments mentioned, but what exactly are those benefits in the Presbyterian system?

The last two points are not worth a discussion as they are Reformed givens.

Any Anglican can see why this emphasis on separation of sign and thing signified seems contrary to the very essence of a sacrament, that there is something sacred at work. What is more, the Westminster standard seems to agree with the Anglican position. Surely, I have misunderstood this emphasis and I am therefore making much of little. I leave these issues to MDA for explanation.

Second Hypothetical

Let us consider an adult male member of each church. Let us for a moment assume that this man is baptized and a member in good standing in the church. The obvious theological point is that this man is a covenant member. He is outwardly and visibly a member of the covenant community. However, there is no clear knowledge of his inward or invisible faith. In other words, despite his participation in church, he may not actually be among the elect. Now, let us add a visible sin to the picture. This man owns a local hardware store. His store is open Saturday and Sunday (for clarity and to sure there is a fourth commandment issue), and he not only works in the store himself on these days, but forces his employees to do the same. He is unwilling to hear of anyone telling him otherwise. Let us begin.

I chose this example for several reasons, but there are two compelling issues here. First, many would say that this isn’t really a sin. I fail to see the wiggle room myself, but if MDA chooses, he can change the sin to one more suited to his arguments. Secondly, once we accept this is a true violation of the fourth commandment in the intention of the man, we can easily move past the issue of its habitual nature.

Now, it is to MDA to explain how he views the situation of this man in terms of his ultimate salvation, membership in the church, state of repentance and finally whether and how he is fenced and disciplined. My own thoughts I will save for second place as I have far too much ground to cover without first understanding the process about which we will spar.

To all who chance upon this blog, I wish you a blessed 2014.

– Troll –

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Marks of the Church: First Hypothetical Rebuttal

This post will be my rebuttal points from this post by the Monroe Doctrine Author (MDA) concerning my first hypothetical. MDA has engaged the debate and offers us a useful description of PCA views on the child in the covenant community. Distinctions are drawn between the visible and invisible church. But to begin this rebuttal, I would draw our attention to the two definitions of sacrament that have been offered.

MDA has made emphasis of the point at least a couple of times now that that Presbyterian standards make clear that there should be no confusion between the sign and the thing signified. The Anglican view is that the sacrament is the outward visible sign of an inward spiritual and invisible grace. The key point of emphasis is that the Holy Spirit works on us through the sacraments. What is the difference here since both sides seem to point to a distinction, but an outsider may not see it?

The Presbyterian emphasis seems to be that we cannot know the timing of the working of the Holy Spirit while the Anglican emphasis is that the sacraments are a gift to us through which the Holy Spirit works on us. This is actually a rather huge divergence of emphasis and it is seen in action clearly in both sacraments. To say that the Holy Spirit cannot be understood to act through the sacraments, though He might choose to do so, is to take a deep cut into the theology, status and emphasis of the sacraments. It seems a short walk from this perspective to Zwingli, far closer than the standards suggest with their use of the term “pneumatic presence.” This phrase to me means exactly a pointing to the Holy Spirit in the sacrament. Therefore, there seems to be an inconsistency on this issue. There is recognition that the Holy Spirit is mysteriously present in the sacraments, but an emphasis that He may not be doing anything while He is there. Obviously, some clarification on this point will need to be forthcoming.

Coming back to Paedocommunion for a moment, it is going to be difficult to sort this out from my own church as the official position of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) within the ACNA is to leave this up to the local church. This is an interesting and yet frustrating position. I would have been completely unsurprised by this position from ACNA as this is consistent with their view of women clergy. However, the REC is substantially older and seems to have been affected by the same trend in the Anglican world from the 1960s.

But since this is such a hot issue within the Reformed world, even within the PCA who have discussed it as recently as this year in conference, I think a more careful look at it is warranted. This is taken from a blog by Matt Kennedy.
Rather than forming faith in their young, evangelical parents often seem to wait for it to “burble up spontaneously from the heart” and then when some inclination toward Christ does arise, it is—in the worst cases—seized upon, cut open, laid bare on the examining table and probed to see whether it meets various doctrinal requirements rather than fed, channeled, and nourished. I’ve seen children who clearly love Jesus denied baptism/communion by their parents because they don’t sufficiently understand the ins and outs of sola fide or eucharistic theology—which, from my perspective, sets said parents down squarely into the first century sandals of Jesus’ original disciples who barred children’s way to the Lord.
Kennedy quotes this from Doug Wilson.
This is the assumption that when very young children are taught to respond this way, we are simply training them, as you would a puppy, and not really educating them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The plastic nature of a child’s soul is thought to be such that you could tell them anything, and since they don’t know any better, this responsiveness of theirs cannot be known to be true faith. And since we cannot “know” it to be true faith, then we need to wait until their profession of faith is mature enough to cross-examine. We are bringing the logic of courtroom verification into the rearing of children. Nothing against courtroom verification in its place, but that’s not what we should be doing here. Christian nurture is more like breastfeeding than it is like grilling a hostile witness…
Reflecting on the comments of MDA and my own last post, I would draw attention to more to our practice of confirmation and its role in our liturgy rather than paedocommunion. Paedocommunion has more to do with inclusion in the invisible church, while confirmation has more to do with inclusion in the visible church. One has to question both, but at the end of the day, both remain important. Finally, I think we can discuss some other aspects of this sacrament, particularly its use in terms of discipline in some Reformed eyes.

The key point for MDA is the issue of self-examination by individuals prior to participating in communion. In his argument against paedocommunion, he asserts that the child of a pre-confirmation age has not yet acquired the ability to perform this self-examination. To this point, I would concede a fraction and yet draw attention back to Wilson’s comments above. A covenant child may never know and remember a day in which he did not believe. This nurturing with the Holy Spirit through Communion is consistent with an Anglican theology of upbringing. We are a church involved in the spiritual upbringing of children, not just the doctrinal education of children. In some respects, our Evangelical brothers have it right. There cannot be an omission of the spiritual, both in terms of recognition and experience. The Eastern criticism of the West is valid on this point.

But once again, my thought process would return to the liturgical practice of confession and absolution prior to Communion. Either these practices are considered irrelevant by the Presbyterian or woefully insufficient to satisfy Paul’s conditions in 1 Corinthians 11. I would argue that this could not be farther from the case within Anglican theology. This liturgical ordering is precisely geared to this point. The Roman and Orthodox examples cannot be ignored. As the older churches, perhaps they do some things right. Did Luther intend to rebel or to instruct on error? Was the spirituality of the Church the question on Luther’s mind? John Calvin was certainly a theologian of the Holy Spirit as he was a great follower of Paul. Paul himself is a theologian of the Holy Spirit as the chapters that follow 1 Corinthians 11 are at the center of the continuation of gifts debate. There is seemingly much emphasis on the mind and a lack of emphasis on the spiritual in the Reformed debate. The two are inseparable in Anglican theology and this is also a component of why Evangelicans can seem to be closer to Rome than Calvin at times.

Finally, for today, I would affirm that the federal vision movement, distinctly different from the federal representation of both Adams in our covenant views, is a position that clearly is far from my position. Tom Wright has certainly written a lot of popular literature. He is not only a federal vision guy, but a new perspective on Paul guy, both positions that neither MDA nor I will support.

After MDA is given a chance to respond, my next post will hopefully take the hypothetical of an adult covenant member who has sinned and address the issues of discipline.

– Troll –

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Debate on the Marks of the Church: First Hypothetical

The response to my last post from the Monroe Doctrine author (MDA) can be found here. Please take a moment to read it, because I would affirm the assumptions made by MDA in his opening paragraphs. I think that this is a fair series of statements that do well in framing the discussion. Prior to getting to the first hypothetical, I would take a moment to respond to the five points listed.

1.       Concerning sacramental rites, while these are not true sacraments in the sense of Baptism and the Eucharist, they warranted preservation in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) as useful rites. Indeed, a church without marriage would just not do at all. But even marriage is not a true sacrament, a view shared by both sides in this debate. While the language to which MDA referred may be confusing, the terminology is no more than a nod to our Romish roots. There are only two sacraments.

2.       Concerning Chapter 27.3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, I would refer you to Article 26 of the 39 Articles, remembering that it predates Westminster, and you will see similar language. The issue of Christ in the sacrament is a slippery slope and I would question MDA here on the meaning a “pneumatic presence” that I understand to be the Presbyterian position. Anglicans use of “real presense,” while clearly not meaning transubstantiation, has come to mean something very akin to Lutheran consubstantiation. Nonetheless, my personal view, although admittedly in the minority of all Anglicans, but likely the majority of my Reformed Episcopal Church (REC,) would be more in line with the “pneumatic presence” as I understand it and described before. Here, I must admit to Anglican heterogeneity while defining my position within the most Reformed branch of the stream.

3.       Concerning point 3 and regeneration, this is clearly going to be a lynchpin of our discussion and one in which I will have to be careful to observe stringent definitions during our debate. Much of what will follow later will hinge upon these differences. I do think that MDA has correctly understood what I have suggested as a position consistent with most Anglican theologians on this point.

4.       Concerning point 4, there is not much here to discuss, I am charged with underestimating Presbyterian valuation of the Lord’s Supper, and that may be true. But relative to the Anglican position in terms of theology, service order, architecture, frequency and emphasis, any non-catholic (small “c” intended) view of the Eucharist will seem to be a devaluation. So, I will concede the point.

5.       Concerning the episcopate, it might be helpful here to draw parallels on the issue of parity. Bishops have been the seat of authority in the church since at least the third century. The Holy Sees of the early Church are mentioned in kind if not specifically by that name in Revelation. It was common to use the term bishop to refer to the seat of authority within that principality. Of course, parity among bishops was an Eastern assumption, one that Rome countermanded leading to the Great Schism in 1054. Anglican history, in addition to issues over theology, is far better known for this issue of parity. While the Archbishop of Canterbury has a place of honor among bishops, it is still a place among equals. There exists within Anglican hierarchy absolute independence of authority between diocese. An Archbishop is an administrative position over a province, but has no greater authority than the other bishops. This is probably similar to a Metropolitan in the Eastern Church. Clergy are ordained to be the local agents of the bishop. As such, they perform the sacraments by authority of their bishop. This is why there is a hierarchical distinction between bishops and priests. Nonetheless, this parity of elders that is so highly valued by the Presbyterians is not unlike the Anglican parity of bishops. Indeed, the idea of parity has been preserved from the early church and is consistent with the Eastern side of the Great Schism.

First Hypothetical

In order to flesh out this discussion, it would seem best to follow through a number of hypothetical situations and then comment on the theology at work at each step. It will be necessary in this regard to make assumptions, but this is acceptable within the world of hypotheticals. Nonetheless, the viewpoint of man will need to be considered necessarily as a part of this debate, and I will be harping on this issue to some degree. Let us begin with the easiest situation.

Describe the theological sign posts of a covenant child, baptized at infancy (obviously on or after the eighth day,) brought up in the church, who becomes a member in good standing in his church where he lives throughout his life until his death. I’ll go first as both example and a starting point for debate.

This child has communicant parents in the church. What can be said about the parents is that they are certainly covenant members and have the appearance of being among the elect. Covenant membership through baptism is reasonably extended to children of covenant members without much reservation. The Baptismal Covenant set forth in the BCP, assigns responsibility for the proper Christian education of the child, not only to the parents and godparents, but also to the whole congregation present. Whether this plays out in practice is another issue, but the words set forth in the sacrament are clear on this point. Theologically, that child is a covenant member. Through the doctrine of election, there are two possibilities. If the child is elect, the view of baptism becomes similar temporally to Lutheran theology. This is still not the same as the Lutherans, as the moving of the Holy Spirit cannot be known to act in one way or the other for the Anglican, while the Lutheran assumes that the Holy Spirit gives through the sacrament what is promised by the sacrament. Regeneration is in this case simultaneous with the sacrament. This is an important point if the child were to die. We stand in agreement with Lutherans on this issue.

If, instead, the child were not of the elect, by baptism, he is still deserving of all the rights and privileges of covenant membership. He might still be raised in the church and indeed spend his whole life in the church. The difference is regarding the lack of regeneration. Instead, by baptism, he has essentially blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, sealing his fate from the start. In every appearance, he may seem to be elect from the perspective of man, and yet there is a hidden and unknown to man lack of repentance and true faith. He has taken Communion thousands of times and his fate cannot be clearer to God.

Both children go through confirmation classes, essentially a catechism though not called that. Confirmation is the laying on of hands by the bishop conferring upon the individual full standing within the church. This is the transfer of responsibility for one’s own Baptismal vows back to the individual in the case of both children and adults. Adults who are baptized in the church will also go through Confirmation as their Baptismal vows are also jointly held by the congregation at the time of Baptism. This transference by the laying on of hands also confers apostolic succession from the Bishop to his charges, making the person in communion with the one catholic and apostolic church on this earth. However, this is, importantly, not a true sacrament in the Protestant world as it is in the Roman world. As a part of fencing the table, first Communion is usually at this time for Roman Catholics.

In contradistinction, Anglicans hold to the controversial practice of paedocommunion, the giving of communion to children before confirmation. I am calling this controversial, as it was introduced to the Episcopal Church (USA) about 40 years ago, about a decade after the ordination of women. To be fair, I’ll have to ask my current priest or bishop whether this is even done in the REC. Nonetheless, to follow through this process logically, I will start with the adult who is baptized. We invite all baptized Christians to our table. This includes adults before they have received confirmation. The theological position of a child aged 9 who has not been confirmed is similar to the adult who has not been confirmed. Separate classes or instruction are given through Sunday School to children, usually at around first or second grade, for the receiving of communion. This is not akin to confirmation in any way. The elect child receives the benefits of the sacrament, while the non-elect child receives all of the dire consequences of 1 Corinthians 11. But to all appearances, these children would be of the same situation. The adult who is baptized but not yet confirmed is in the same boat. The emphasis here is on the sacrament of Baptism. By inclusion into the visible church, the assumption is made that the person is worthy to receive Communion. We cannot know otherwise from the viewpoint of man.

Rather than introduce a specific sin at this point, I’ll yield the floor to MDA for his response. This will certainly have generated a number of issues to which he will likely want to respond.

- Troll -

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Debate on the Marks of the Church: First Clarification

By now, if you are reading this at all, you are aware that this is a series of posts on two blogs that are interacting with each other. At the beginning of each future post in this series, there will be a link to The Monroe Doctrine so that the prior post to which I am responding will be available to my readers. Please take a moment to read the post entitled “Church Discipline: an opening response.”

After carefully reading my foil’s opening remarks, it is evident that I did not adequately present the historical Anglican position. In my desire to reflect the mood of what is actually taught to the laity, I missed proper emphasis on what is taught to clergy. Since this will be a series about ideal ideas as opposed to the relative strengths of particular parishes, I will do well to stick to doctrine over practice. In my own future, I will certainly endeavor to make these two congruent. The issue at hand prior to embarking upon the great issue of discipline is the sacraments.

In a discussion of the marks of the Church, it comes as no surprise that each will impact the others in some manner. Therefore, a clear understanding of the theology behind each will shed light on future remarks. We have little disagreement on the correct preaching of the Word. The only differences arise from the different methods of selecting passages from which the sermons are based. Theologically, it is a wash; by emphasis, however, there is a difference that needs to be underscored.

The Monroe Doctrine author (MDA) asks for clarification on the issue of the sacraments. Let us begin with the issues raised regarding the number of sacraments. While it is true that Anglicanism inherited seven from Rome, it is also true that the Anglican Communion holds that only two were instituted by Christ and are worthy of the full status of sacrament. The other five, which I listed before, are worthy only of the title of “sacramental rites.” This is important because the implication here is that there is an involvement of the Holy Spirit in sacraments.

This brings me to my first key point on Anglican sacraments. The 39 Articles join with the Lutheran Augsburg Confession in rejecting the Zwinglian view of sacraments as anthropocentric ritual. By their very institution by Christ, Anglicans affirm that sacraments do not do any work, but rather God the Holy Spirit works on us through the sacraments. The sacraments are a gift from Christ whereby God does something, as opposed to them being a God-given way for us to declare something to Him or man. This is an important distinction, consistent with the views of Augustine, but one that may not be afoul of Presbyterian thinking.

In terms of Baptism, the laity often view Baptism as an open sacrament because of our (mutual) paedobaptism. In actual fact, far more adult baptisms are performed annually than infant baptisms in the Anglican Church. For the Anglican, this idea of an open sacrament is simply not the case, nor do I image that it is for the Presbyterian. As Baptism is a sacrament, a person who is baptized but does not repent and receive regeneration is as much bringing damnation upon himself as is a person who does not rightly receive the Lord’s Supper. The language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 is echoed in terms of both sacraments. Interestingly, Calvin states a similar position in his sermon on Ephesians 2:11-13, including Baptism on equal footing with the Lord’s Supper as sacraments that condemn the reprobate. Articles 25 and 26 predate and actually predict the position of the Westminster Confession on this issue and the next.

The specific issue raised by MDA concerns regeneration. Following John Donne in the seventeenth century is Bishop Arthur Lake who developed the covenant model of Baptism within the Anglican Church. A full understanding of covenant theology in terms of Exodus 19 was outlined. What was also emphasized, however, is that election and covenant inclusion are not synonymous. This speaks directly to the issue of regeneration. While regeneration and Baptism are simultaneous in the elect, this does not deliver the same view of the sacrament as the Lutheran view. Covenant inclusion does not guarantee election, as that is involved in predestination. Many Anglicans will be surprised to find this Calvinist idea in their heritage, but one only has to study the divines to see that this is consistent. Lake is clear to strike at the Armininian idea of free will, preferring the liberation of will through grace that Calvinists will recognize. It is fair to say that this is not espoused by all Anglican clergy, but it is important in our discussion to look at the roots of the denomination for the answers to doctrinal issues. It is clear that Anglicanism has developed a doctrinal mud on this issue, but the roots are more crystalline. The 39 Articles clearly promote a view consistent with the later Westminster Confession.

I think that this puts MDA and me on similar footing concerning the issue of falling from grace. This is simply not possible within the context of a truly regenerated saint. The thought process that led me to that earlier quote was one of appearances concerning the practice of discipline. In good time, we will pound out our differences concerning the reprobate within the covenant community.

Returning to the issue of fencing the table, as MDA has reminded me of that expression, we now have another issue to consider. If Baptism is not only a covenant initiation ritual, but also a true sacrament through which God the Holy Spirit operates, then the reprobate is already condemned from the moment of Baptism. This follows logically from the definition of sacrament. Often, the Anglican laity will produce this terse definition: a sacrament is an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual and invisible grace. This definition is an Anglican truth, but it leaves much on the table for discussion. While not often spoken, the implication of the Holy Spirit being at work in the sacrament is all that Paul states in 1 Corinthians 11. But since the reprobate has already been condemned in Baptism, what further purpose is served by fencing the table?

Again, here is where the view of the Lord’s Supper demonstrates both differences in theology as well as differences in purpose. Because of the activity of the Holy Spirit in sacraments, the role of the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s Supper is sanctification. While this is similar to the view of Rome, the economy of grace is vastly different. This is not a finite particle of grace for the repudiation of a particular sin as in the Roman Catholic system, but rather more like a recharging of the battery. The Anglican needs this sacrament and feels unhealthy when going too long between. But I would refer you back to the service order for references concerning the confession and absolution that occur just prior to the prayer of consecration. While this may just be a lot of words to some of the laity, the clergy and certainly Anglican theologians take that portion of the service seriously. The absolution is as efficacious in fencing the table as need be, since the reprobate have already condemned themselves in Baptism.

One final point of clarification is the episcopate. While excommunication is among the possibilities of censure from a bishop, I have not heard of it being used with near the same frequency (as in never) relative to the Presbyterian system, again, my point of reference being my conversations with pastors. The bishop is far more likely to deal with the clergy under his charge in a censure than any laity. The issue of parity among ordained elders is a non-issue under the 39 Articles. The authority resides in the position, not the man. A retired bishop has no more authority than any Joe in the pew. We all Western Protestants fell from the same Romish tree. Anglicans feel less compelled to throw out the baby with the bath water as it were. Rejecting apostolic succession has more to do with political expediency than any theological determinative that I can see at this point.

In closing, I have a humorous observation. While I have chosen to use Luther as my source for the uses of the Law, MDA has selected the same from Calvin. There is little difference other than the ordering of the three. But here is also Luther’s quote on the abuses of the Law.
There are three ways in which the Law may be abused. First, by the self- righteous hypocrites who fancy that they can be justified by the Law. Secondly, by those who claim that Christian liberty exempts a Christian from the observance of the Law. "These," says Peter, "use their liberty for a cloak of maliciousness," and bring the name and the Gospel of Christ into ill repute. Thirdly, the Law is abused by those who do not understand that the Law is meant to drive us to Christ. When the Law is properly used its value cannot be too highly appraised. It will take me to Christ every time.

– Troll –

(I have not footnoted this blog post as it is not my custom in this blog.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Debate on the Marks of the Church: Part 2 of Opening Salvo

In beginning of our discussion of the Presbyterian third mark of the Church, it helps from the outset to know that this is not a subject that is viewed lightly or without a very substantial history of vigorous debate. The Westminster Confession of Faith has a section on this topic, and the debate at the Westminster convention or court is interesting reading. There are books on this topic. But first, let me set out a general pattern.

As a pastor described to me, the idea is that most instances are resolved at the first or second level and never get to the last level. What are these levels? First, there is the concerned fellow covenant communicant or church member, but there should be two. They would confront a communicant over an issue of sin, hopefully to guild that person towards counseling with a goal of repentance. The next level of intervention would be the elders, who would similarly seek to correct the communicant, with the goal being restoration of that person by repentance. Finally, things get to the pastoral level and subsequently and organized process of courts within the church that resembles the legal system. This is the last resort and is usually reached only by the communicant either refusing to admit their sin or to be willing to turn from it.

While I will leave it to my friend to polish this process as much as he feels is necessary, I want to focus on the model of Church membership that drives this system. The covenant community has a door in that is baptism and a door out that is excommunication. What follows in the typical Presbyterian discourse on the subject is a lot of discussion about 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 16:19. “Binding and loosing” are translated as “forbid and allow,” and there is an implication of oversight based upon a standard.  The Westminster Confession emphasizes that the Church is a Kingdom, the representation of the Lord’s Kingdom in the already, but not yet; the inter-advental time in which we live. Kingdoms have laws, judges and authorities to implement determinations. This is the justification for their system, and all of it has some Biblical footing.

The Anglican Marks of the Church

Before I can point out my differences, I should first describe my system. We will require an understanding by all parties as to the position from which I debate. The Anglican view of the Church and its authority has been described as a three-legged stool, the legs of which are scripture, history and reason. The ultimate authority in the Anglican Church is scripture. The notable distinctives of the Anglican Church are the Book of Common Prayer, the Liturgy (including the lectionary) and the episcopate (that claims apostolic succession.)

The Book of Common Prayer is a misunderstood document. One common criticism is that we use a secondary source for our services rather than the Bible. Actually, the Book of Common Prayer is about 90% Biblical quotation, and about 10% creeds and catholic tradition. Therefore, the criticism is unfounded. The beauty of the Book is that there is little difference between Anglican churches. There is a tradition and a familiarity to any Anglican service to its members, regardless of where they might attend on a given Sunday while traveling. Later, I will address the theology behind this tradition and the similarities and differences with Rome.

The lectionary is a three year cycle of scripture that is read each week. Necessarily, this means that not all areas of the Bible are covered completely. However, the criticism often leveled against the Anglican is that they are Biblically illiterate. Actually, though, they know far more of the Bible than they realize. They just don’t necessarily know where it came from in the Bible or how to find it. The lectionary also means that the same scripture is being read in every Anglican church on any given Sunday.

The episcopate is the most germane point to our topic. All authority in the church is held by the bishops or episcopate, who in turn serve all of their parishes. We will explore in later posts how that authority is used as we now have seen a takeover in the Episcopal Church by utilizing the avenues of power within that body.

Anglican Preaching

While it can certainly vary, the idea is that the sermon is based upon one of the readings for that day. Each day there is a first reading, which can be from any place in the Bible, an Epistle, most often from Paul as you would expect, but the other New Testament letters are not neglected, and a Gospel reading. Most sermons that I have heard have been based on the Gospel. The readings are laid out so that there is a vein of cohesion between them each week. The best sermons find that vein and lay it bare for the congregation. The theology of the preaching of the Word is the same in theory, but in practical application, there is far more importance placed in the sacraments. If I were to ask a random Anglican which is most important, most would point to the sacraments. I wonder and fear if this is a commentary on the quality of the sermons. Still, at root, this is a Calvinist group, born of the Reformation, and shaped largely by Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer was responsible for the creation of the BCP. A perusal of the various versions of this document will reveal a drift in theology from time to time, but a solid foundation particularly in the 1928 version, known as a return to the roots version.

Anglican Sacraments

This section will be a bit confusing for a Presbyterian. The traditional number of sacraments is seven. However, it is recognized that Baptism and the Eucharist are the only two that were instituted by Jesus. The others have been downgraded in some Anglican provinces to sacramental rites. For completeness, those other five sacraments are Confession and Absolution, Holy Matrimony, Confirmation, Holy Orders (ordination) and Holy Unction (anointing of the sick.) Although I was actually taught differently with Evening Prayer substituting for Confirmation, the five I’ve listed here are straight from the 39 Articles and the definitive answer to the question.

There is a decided difference to how Anglicans view the sacraments. Starting with Baptism, let us cover the common ground. Paedobaptism is the rule and the reasoning is the same. It is offered to the children of saints. While the historical background for this practice is both Catholic and Reformed, the theology is not taught in the same manner as the heritage from which it came. It is simply said that Baptism is necessary for salvation. Because of the near miss of a concordat between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, it might be justly argued that the Episcopal position on Baptism more closely resembles Lutheran theology than covenant theology. In practice, this might be the case, but I wonder whether this is consistent through all of the provinces. Again, the issue of the Lutheran theology on Baptism that is troublesome is the apparent falling away from the Church that is seen from time to time and its implications to the sacrament.

The real difference, though, is seen in the Eucharist. The first, most obvious distinctive is the location of the altar. It is always the centerpiece of the church, whether raised at the East end of the church or raised in a more central position. This architecture speaks volumes as to the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Anglican Church. You will not attend many Anglican services that do not involve the Eucharist, the notable exception being evening prayer. The Anglicans view both of the sacraments instituted by Jesus as necessary for salvation, and therefore the Eucharist holds an important position. Looking back on our scale of Roman Catholic to Baptist, the Anglicans are much closer to Rome than perhaps any other church of the Reformation. You will hear the phrase “real presence” here, but not with the same meaning as with the Roman Catholics. Transubstantiation is specifically condemned in the 39 articles, but there is a reliance upon “mystery” as an explanation for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is certainly much more than the pneumatic presence of which the Presbyterians speak. This is not just a memorial, this is a sacrament every bit as mystical and important as Baptism.

The next point is that the Eucharist is open to all baptized Christians. This has huge implications to the Presbyterian, as I have outlined previously, but this is just not the issue to the Anglican. The Eucharist is necessary and vital to their sanctification. The full theology of the service order will be explored later, including the role of the Eucharist and its climactic position in the service order. What is important here is that the Eucharist is open; therefore, there is a clear difference in theology at work.

In my discussions about these differences with a Presbyterian pastor, his remarks were that Anglicans sounded as if they were guilty of sacerdotalism. Sacerdotalism is the view that priests are given special spiritual authority to mediate between God and man. Firstly, one read of the 39 Articles will put this view to rest. There is explicit language that the authority of the bishop is in the office of bishop, not the man. Incidentally, we saw this recently in the retiring of Pope Benedict and his view of his current position. It was a refreshingly Biblical return for Rome. Secondly, there is no mediation in play here; there is the administration of a sacrament. The distinction is important. The priest is in the role of servant to his congregation, while each participant in the Eucharist communes directly with the elements and His real presence. Any Anglican clergy would dismiss this charge resolutely.

Anglican Service Order

I must spend a few moments on this subject because it sheds much light on the issue of sin and repentance from the Anglican perspective. The service is modeled on the ancient ritual handed down through our Roman Catholic antecedents. It must be stated from the outset that the economy of grace supported by Rome is not in any way followed by the Anglican Communion. Therefore, some of this will seem odd at first as there is a symmetry of action with Roman Catholicism. In fact, a Roman Catholic would find an Anglican service familiar to a degree. The whole service is modeled as a prayer, as worship is an extension of prayer. If you follow one of the acronyms of prayer such as ACTS, then you will recognize some of the pattern. The full measure of the service order, though, has much more depth and breadth.

The service begins by proclamation and invitation. We are announcing to God that we have come to His house to worship Him, and we invite Him to be present with us. There is an exhortation to the congregation to focus on the worship before them. This is followed by the either the Decalogue or the summary of the law. It must be said that the Reformed Anglicans do the full list far more frequently, usually monthly. Next, the service moves to the readings for the day. This is followed by the Sermon, as you would expect.

What follows is vitally important to our discussion. After the sermon, the Nicene Creed is recited. This is followed by the prayers for the whole church and any specific supplications of the congregation. Next, there is a corporate confession of sin. Anglicans have a preserved sacramental rite of personal confession as do the Roman Catholics, but Anglicans generally stick with the corporate prayer of confession. The instruction is to hold your personal sins in mind as this prayer is recited. The next step is crucial to the discussion. The priest or bishop delivers an absolution to the congregation. In Rome, there is penance attached to this step in accordance to their economy of grace. The Anglican view is that penance of that type is in error and a represents the main point of departure of the Reformation. The absolution is corporate and it is taken very seriously in a theological perspective.

After the peace and offertory, the Eucharist Prayer begins. This is led by priest and there is all of the ritual that you would expect from the Roman Catholics. There is usually the ringing of what are called Sanctus Bells at particular moments of the prayer to draw the attention of the congregation and emphasize that what is happening is solemn, mystical and special. The prayer has a solid overlay of good Calvinist doctrine that can be discussed at some point in the future. Finally, after the Great Thanksgiving, there is a post-communion prayer, benediction and exhortation.

As you can see, the placing of the confession and absolution directly before the Eucharist has a purpose that is akin to the reasoning behind the closed sacrament of the Presbyterians. We will certainly have to evaluate the validity of this absolution at some point in the discussion, and we will also need to understand why the Eucharist holds so much prominence in the theology.

What is clearly missing here is the issue of church discipline. While there are standards to which clergy are held (think of clergy as equivalent Biblically to Elder,) censure coming from the bishop if necessary, there is generally speaking counseling available, but no formal move to excommunicate. Again, this sounds a bit Lutheran, as while there is a door in, there is really no formal door out.  We fully recognize that people drift away from the Church, but I think that there is a lack of clarity as to whether these people fall from faith or if they rather did not have genuine faith from the start. I’ll be working through this critical point as we go.

This concludes my opening salvo. I will leave it to my friend to clarify where he feels it is necessary and to ask questions as needed. Then, when he is ready, we will progress to particular Biblical references and try to work through them in both systems.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Debate on the Marks of the Church: Opening salvo

This is hopefully the beginning post of a series. I will be linking you to another blog where the responses will take place. This is a dialogue. If I fail to answer your comments or questions immediately, it is because the quality of the other debater requires my concentration. Eventually, I will get back to you.

This started with the following comments that I will reproduce here as context for my opening remarks. 
“Definition of legalism: any attempt to use the moral law as a set of requirements by which a person can attain favor with God; or, for a Christian, any attempt to use the moral law as posing a threat to the believer or creating a system of punishment and rewards.

Definition of antinomianism ("no law") -- failure to recognize the moral law as a universally valid measure for human conduct before a holy God, by which measure we all fall short; or, for the Christian who has been delivered from condemnation, the failure to recognize the moral law as a guide for how we can show gratitude to God.

These two definitions attempt to make clear the proper and improper use of the law, which I consider an important subject badly mangled by many of the devout.”

Before embarking upon this trek, I will supply some background. My foil in this discussion is a good friend who is a Presbyterian (PCA) Elder. I am a former Episcopalian who is now returning to the Reformed Episcopal Church, a member organization in the Anglican Church of North America. We are both Calvinists. This is an important point from the outset as we will be having an in-house discussion between believing brothers in Christ. We hold the vast majority of theology and doctrine as common ground. Therefore, we will likely be making assumptions that not all of our readers will understand or support. You are forewarned and forearmed.

As a point of information, the Presbyterian position on the marks of the Church is that there are three: Word, Sacrament and Discipline. This series will be exploring this third point. Both sides have centuries of theologians lining up behind them, but we want to flesh out the argument as much to understand our own position better as to convince anyone. In fact, it would be highly unlikely that either of us will change our positions. We do not expect or even necessarily desire that outcome. Both of us will want to remain true to the positions of our respective traditions. I will be working from the ESV and I suspect that will be consistent with my foil, but we will know in the rebuttal if I am in error on this point.

Concerning our working definition of Legalism

It appears to me that the conclusion above sets the framework for the definitions. These definitions are designed in terms of their use within the church, both good and bad. I think I would start by expanding the definition and bringing light on various aspects that warrant consideration. The Law can be defined by the Ten Commandments with the addition of general revelation. There is a side issue of Levitical or rabbinical law that needs to be discussed, so that it can be set aside. Here is how this was defined from the first discussion that I am quoting.
“[T]he law is the moral duty that God requires of people, as revealed generally in conscience and summarized in the 10 commandments. Jesus summarized the moral law as requiring us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.”
This definition works well for me, so that we understand that rabbinical law is excluded from the discussion. This follows from basic covenant theology and both sides will agree on this point. I will begin with a general definition of legalism and build to the more specific. Legalism is strict and literal adherence to a legal system. There is an implication of extreme compliance to the point that goes to beyond the purpose of the law. In Biblical context, the Pharisees were legalists in terms of both moral law and rabbinical law. Since Jesus was obviously at odds with that group as his primary foil throughout the Gospels, what did he say about legalism?

Any discussion about Jesus and the law must begin with the Sermon on the Mount particularly Matthew 5:17. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” One can easily take the verses that follow out of context and arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is proposing an extreme form of legalism. Actually, He is pointing out the futility of keeping the law for man at that point in history. He is trying to get men to understand that they are in a hopeless situation under the law without some sort of help or rescue. Both of us will agree on this point.

Turning a moment to the Rich Young Ruler, an excellent example of a legalist, in Matthew 19:16-26, we see Jesus suggest that the key to salvation is to obey the moral law. The young man completely misses the point of the instruction, so Jesus throws yet more law at him until he capitulates. So much attention, particularly in suburban America, is given to verse 23, that it is often missed that verse 26 is closely related to it. The point of this story is that obedience to the law for salvation is impossible for man alone. Again, there will be agreement on this point.

Martin Luther described the three uses of the law, which bears repeating in this space, though I have written on the topic in the past. There is the civil use of the law, which is as a force to restrain sin. This is in the context of general revelation or natural law. There is the pedagogical use of the law, which shows people their sin and points to mercy and grace outside of themselves. This is the use for confrontation and refutation of sin for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ. Finally, there is the normative use of the law, which is the use of the law for saints as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good. The problem arises when the pedagogical use of the law is attempted on saints. This is how legalism begins. When the doctrines of grace are not understood, there is an innate tendency to return to the law. This expectation that the law provides any role in salvation is misguided. Once again, I do not anticipate any issues here.

Concerning our working definition of antinomianism

This definition is very good as it makes specific mention of our gratitude. The problem with the antinomian is that he does not appreciate the overwhelming nature of the gift of mercy and grace through Christ’s earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Often, people want to skip to the good stuff and miss the foundation of why Christ was necessary. This is true of the antinomian. Anyone who fully understands the depth of despair associated with sin, particularly the condition of sin and its implications for salvation, and then is taught the doctrines of grace, this person will not fail to be grateful to Jesus for His condescension to become human, his sacrifice and triumph over death, and finally his ascension and role as mediator and advocate. There are no antinomians who understand this formula. This begs the question as to whether an antinomian is a true believer. I would argue against their faith being genuine. This seems to be consistent with the text and doctrinal teaching from both sides of this debate.

Marks of the Church

By now, you are asking, where is the debate? Here is the debate finally: what are the marks of the church? As I’ve said above, the Presbyterian answer is that there are three.
  • 1.       The preaching of the Word, correctly and continuously.
  • 2.       The keeping of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  • 3.       Church discipline.
What is meant by each of these? The preaching of the Word means something very different than the typical “message” many of us hear on Sundays. We are given a steady diet of topical preaching. This phrase refers to preaching through a book of the Bible from beginning to end, and keeping a proper perspective on the relationship between law and gospel. The Reformed notion of the role of preaching is a very high order of importance. It is through the preaching of the Word that the gospel is first heard. The Holy Spirit acts to reveal the truth of the gospel and transform the hearts of the believers. This is a sacred and important task, not just the teaching of some moral checklist each week. The preaching of the Word is active and is the means through which the Holy Spirit moves in regeneration. You will have no argument here from me.

The keeping of the sacraments is a topic that will certainly cause some discussion. First, it is important to define the two sacraments from a Presbyterian perspective, and then discuss the implications of each. Baptism is viewed from a covenant context, paedobaptism is the norm. This is not an exclusion of adult believer’s baptism, but an inclusion of the children of saints into the covenant community. This is Biblically consistent with the Jewish example. However, while the Lutheran believes that baptism delivers what it promises, the Presbyterian still expects the individual to come to a full knowledge of the love and mercy of Jesus, and to believe in the salvation promised in the Gospel. This means that there is a possibility that some Baptized people may not be among the saints. But this is not problematic or inconsistent. There are Jews who are members of the covenant community, but who did not receive salvation, notably Judas Iscariot. What is interesting here is that there is an acceptance of this fact, and yet a reticence to administer the next sacrament to all covenant members. 

The Lord’s Supper can be viewed in several ways, and rather than listing them all, let us look at the spectrum and see where the Presbyterians fall. On one end, there is Roman Catholic notion of transubstantiation. This means that the elements actually mystically transform their substance from mere bread and wine to the actual body and blood of Christ. There is a “real presence” of Christ in the elements. This is a key point of divergence in the Reformation, and one that both sides in our debate will not condone. The other end of the spectrum is a mere memorial. This is the Baptist view on this sacrament, and it is probably a stretch to call the Lord’s Supper a sacrament at all in that context. It is reduced to nothing more than a prayer over food. The Presbyterian view is that first of all, it is a remembrance, but of the death and sacrifice of our Lord. It is akin to a funeral in some respects. But the real telling point here is that the Lord’s Table is placed below the pulpit. This architectural anomaly sheds light on the relative importance of the sacraments to the correct preaching of the Word. Rather than the Roman Catholic understanding of a real presence, the Presbyterian view is of a pneumatic presence, one that stresses the work of the Holy Spirit. I will leave this to others to define this distinction better. What is most interesting to this discussion, however, is that the Presbyterian sacrament is a closed sacrament. This means that it is only open to saints in good standing with the church. The issue here is unrepented sin. The worry is that a person with unrepented sin who takes the elements eats and drinks condemnation upon himself. The closed sacrament is explained as a protection of the person from blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and thus eternal damnation. Notice the vast difference between the covenant theology applications to each sacrament. Baptism is offered to children with no knowledge of their eventual lives, and yet the Lord’s Supper can be withheld from church members who have a particular issue with sin. 

This brings us finally to the third mark of the church, church discipline.
“I would say that church discipline is not an attempt to bring a believer under the condemnation of the law. Rather, it is a warning to someone who refuses to acknowledge and repent of sin that they need to repent, and that a refusal to agree with God about their sin may indicate that they are not in the faith. It is not the fact of sin, but the refusal of repentance, that brings about discipline.”
This definition is completely in line with the discussion above. Notice that there seems to be an implied ability of a person to fall from grace. This is a point of consistency that will have to be addressed later in the discussion. In addition, a full description of the Presbyterian system of church discipline will be required. In the next installment, I will lay out that system and then begin my presentation of the Anglican perspective. 
– Troll –